Salil Fadnis has been in the culinary profession for the last 25 years and has worked in different national and international hotel chains. He has been a preopening specialist, having opened hotels in India and overseas. He continued his passion with food as Executive Chef at Hotel Sahara Star and opened nine food and beverage outlets. He has helped his team bag several medals at national level competitions and has led the team to win The Great Indian Culinary Challenge 2011 & 2014. In a chit chat with Better Kitchen Chef Salil Fadnis discusses his life journey. Excerpts.
What made you enter this profession? Your early inspiration in life, well beyond your mother.
In my case it was my father who suggested that I pursue Hotel Management. Till that time I did not know what a five star hotel looked like as no one from the family was in the profession. Before I could join IHM, I loved food…….. as food… to eat. It was only during my training at the college that I could relate myself with cooking & the kitchen practical sessions enthused me the most but I don't know at what point of time I decided to be a chef. Probably It was just natural for me to get attracted towards the profession.
Please brief us about your career growth/graph. Your contribution to the culinary world. What are the unique achievements in your career?
The journey began in 1988 when I joined IHM Mumbai. My professional career began with OCLD & Oberoi Hotels where I got a deep understanding of the trade. The learning curve got sharper as I grew up the ladder while working with other international hotel chains. I've worked in South Africa opening an Indian restaurant, Marriott hotels while opening the Renaissance at Mumbai, at Marriott Goa, In Kenya as a Group Executive Chef & opened a new property, & now its been 9 years at Hotel Sahara Star since its opening.
I have been in the profession for the past 25 years. Since then, every day I have been a student of the profession and sometimes a teacher too. What skills and knowledge you learn from your seniors, you have to add your experience & that has to be passed ahead to the next generation.
In 2002, I was instrumental in forming the “Western India Culinary Association” & then the in 2003 the national body of Chefs “Indian Federation of Culinary Associations” I am active on both associations & which provides a learning & networking platform for all chef in the country.
Your food ideologies.
I believe that food is essentially a means to live. Over a period of time this has been taken over by an urge for more food, new food, variety in taste, experimentation and today food has become a part of fashion & entertainment giving more exposure and bringing chefs in the limelight. The sad part of evolution of this phenomenon is that the people who have access to food have started disrespecting, wasting & over consuming food whereas a large population still goes to sleep consuming hunger. This needs to change & chefs can take a lead in this cause.
Respect food, respect the farmer and respect mother earth. For these are the three essential elements for our survival.
What is the future of culinary world? What changes you would like to see in this profession?
The culinary world has always been evolving on its own. There is a lot ofinnovation & excitement in this field which attracts more & more chefs to experiment and to rediscover the age old recipes. The wheel moves both ways… forward as well as backwards digging deep in history, rediscovering and presenting the favorites in modern style. As they say “water always finds its own level”, same goes for the culinary field. No one person can influence the direction, it will take its own direction.
How much focus do you give to health part in your day to day cooking?
With an increase in number of lifestyle diseases and a huge population affected by them it has become imperative that what we consume is monitored for its contents. At Hotel Sahara Star, we recognize the same and have incorporated the principles of healthy living in our cooking. For instance, we encourage patrons to have breads which are made of aata, jowar, bajra, nachni & kuttu. Guests will always find sprouted legumes, green vegetables and unpolished rice on our buffets. The dessert buffet has sugarfree desserts and desserts which are prepared with stevia (it is natural sweetener). Apart from this we have taken a lead and partnered with a institution in the introduction of “blue dot” to mark our menu items which could be consumed by diabetic patients.
Do you still use some traditional methods of cooking in your kitchen, what are they?
Cooking in itself is a traditional art. Innovative methods have found way in today's kitchen but the base still remain the good old traditions and methods which have been carried through the generations. Modern equipment makes work easy & quick but at the same time it modifies the process a bit. One has to live with the times & In today's fast world, it is difficult to stick to the age old processes.
Do you encourage regional cuisines?
We live in a very unique country which has endless things to offer. Our culture and tradition is so deep rooted that every day you discover something new from the age old treasure. Our food is a mix of that culture, tradition and geography which needs to be encouraged & preserved for the future generations and this is possible only when we practice them every day.
Apart from this our guests relate very well with regional food. They feel connected and special when the food from their region is presented.
Which is your favorite cuisine and why?
There is no better food than home food. However everyone needs a change and something new. It's not the cuisine rather it is the food which matters. Anything, even one of the simplest of things If prepared in right manner could beat an award winning dish. I take inspiration from all mothers, grandmothers, small halwai, the baker around the corner & the chaatwala on the street for they cook only those few items,for their lifetime, which they excel in.
Would you encourage your children to pursue a career in food or cooking?
I don't think profession is hereditary. Kids today have their own thought process & one should allow them and help to develop their own interest, allow them to choose a career of their choice, which they would enjoy. My son is currently pursuing architecture.
How do you like to spend your free time? How do you maintain work life balance?
Relax at home with family, books, good music, and friends is my way of relaxing
You have to give enough time at work to make life easy & enough time at home to make work easy. Fortunately my family understands this and my wife has been very supportive throughout this journey. Work time is work time, I do not take work worries home, holiday time is holiday time and I ensure that I take a long vacation every year & return to with a renewed vigour.
What is your hobby?
I've recently developed a keen interest in food photography and do my own food shots. Takes a lot of patience but is equally satisfying.
Do you eat out quite often? Which places do you prefer?
After spending so much time within the hotel restaurants, it is not food which invites you. But my profession requires me to visit various places to understand the market.I am a no fuss eater and would eat at any place which serves good food. I rarely repeat a restaurant and I look for a new place every time.
Your message to readers.
Eat healthy, stay fit, don't waste food.